Happy Thursday! The United States might not have a new speaker of the House just yet—but you can rest assured knowing we’re home to the heaviest pumpkin on Earth. How festive!
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- After several days of tense negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an agreement Wednesday with the National Unity Party to form a “national emergency government” to unify the country in its ongoing war against Hamas. National Unity party leader Benny Gantz declared Wednesday, “Our standing here, shoulder to shoulder, is a clear message to our enemies, and more importantly, a message to all citizens of Israel—we are all together, we are all mobilizing.” As the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas continued to trade fire yesterday, the only power plant in Gaza ran out of fuel and shut down, cutting power in the territory. The death toll continued to climb—more than 1,300 Israelis and 1,200 Palestinians are reported to have been killed. Meanwhile, at least 130 people are still being held captive by terrorist groups in Gaza. Pope Francis on Wednesday called on Hamas to release its hostages.
- Biden administration officials are considering re-freezing $6 billion in Iranian assets originally set to be returned to Tehran as part of a prisoner swap, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. The news came after several Democratic senators joined their Republican colleagues in criticizing the White House for the move. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton, both Republicans, introduced legislation Wednesday to halt the funds, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen suggested that she “wouldn’t take anything off the table in terms of possible future action” against Iran.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took a surprise trip to Brussels on Wednesday to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and NATO defense ministers, asking the alliance for long-distance weapons needed to continue fighting throughout the winter. Zelensky also offered his strong support for Israel and has reportedly sent an official request to meet with Netanyahu in the country.
- A bipartisan group of lawmakers—including Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Reps. Donald Norcross of New Jersey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida—met with Netanyahu in Israel on Wednesday to express American support for the embattled country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit the Israeli leader today.
- After a closed-door intelligence meeting on Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul affirmed earlier reports that Egypt warned Israel of “something big” three days before Hamas carried out its deadly attack over the weekend. “A warning was given,” he told reporters. “I think the question was at what level.” Meanwhile, additional intelligence collected by the U.S., according to a report from the New York Times, suggested that senior Iranian leadership may not have known about Hamas’ attack on Israel before it occurred—though such a claim is not confirmed.
- Republicans in the House of Representatives failed to choose a new speaker on Wednesday, despite a majority of the conference selecting Majority Leader Steve Scalise by secret ballot in a conference meeting. More than a dozen Republicans publicly came out against Scalise after that vote, voicing their exclusive support instead for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. At time of publishing, there was no indication when the House might vote on a speaker.
- The Biden administration announced new efforts to crack down on “junk fees” hidden in consumer bills. The proposed rule, announced in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, would compel businesses to present and describe any surcharges up front in an attempt to increase consumer knowledge. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized the policy, arguing the administration should focus “on holding accountable those who defraud consumers, not … micromanaging the economy.”
- Former President Donald Trump seemed to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and praise Lebanese Hezbollah as “very smart” at a campaign rally in Florida on Wednesday night, just days after the vicious Hamas terrorist attacks. Trump added he would “stand with Israel 100 percent” if elected president, but called Israel “not prepared” and said he’d “never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down” by allegedly backing out of a U.S. operation to kill Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in 2020. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is challenging Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, posted a scathing rebuttal on X. “Terrorists have murdered at least 1,200 Israelis and 22 Americans and are holding more hostage,” he wrote. “So it is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel, much less praise Hezbollah terrorists as ‘very smart.’”
- Former TV anchor and former candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake officially declared her long-teased campaign for Senate on Tuesday, with a speech that offered a surprising change in tone. “I know you’re struggling as well,” Lake told Democrats who might be listening. “We’re all struggling—there’s not a gas pump out there for Republicans and one for Democrats.” Lake—who was endorsed at her rally by Trump via video message—joins Republican Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego in the race. Incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat-turned-independent, has not yet indicated whether she will seek re-election.
- Cenk Uygur, founder of the progressive online news outlet The Young Turks, declared his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Uygur, a naturalized citizen who was born in Turkey and would likely need a Supreme Court ruling in his favor to serve as president, joined spiritual guru Marianne Williamson in challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination. His candidacy brought the Democratic presidential field back to three after Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s decision to run for president as an independent.
Scalise in the Hot Seat
After ousting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a historic motion to vacate the chair last week, the Republican conference was desperate to avoid a repeat of that same public dysfunction and embarrassment that characterized the end (and the beginning) of McCarthy’s speakership. Part of that effort involved keeping a tight lid on Wednesday’s GOP conference meeting to select the next speaker by confiscating members’ phones.
While Hill reporters were forced to wait until the meeting concluded to hear any news, House staffers’ phone cubby return system created quite the high school hallway scene as lawmakers retrieved their devices.
Behind those closed doors, Majority Leader Steve Scalise beat out House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan in a conference vote for the Republican nomination to become speaker, but the Louisiana Republican still faces the steep challenge of cobbling together 217 votes on the House floor. To do that, he’ll need to unite a GOP conference that’s still fractured in the aftermath of McCarthy’s ouster last week by a handful of hardline Republican defectors.